Pinot Grigio, ‘The Gray Pinecone’

Pinot Grigio, ‘The Gray Pinecone’

National “Pinecone” Day! Well, sort of … May 17th was national Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris Day, so it seemed fitting to highlight! Pinot is the French term for Pinecone. Okay, so why has it been associated with a wine grape? Well, most “Pinot” wines—Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc.—grow in very tight clusters that resemble the shape of a pinecone.

Going a step farther, you will notice that each “Pinot” grape comes with a descriptor. Pinot Noir means black pinecone; Pinot Blanc, white pinecone; and Pinot Grigio/Gris means gray pine cone (although this grape is actually somewhere between blue-gray and gray-purple). Adding some challenging dialect, in Germany, these grapes are known as “Grauburgunder” (Gray grape). Pinot Gris/Grigio is “Spätburgunder.” Pinot Noir and “Weissburgunder,” Pinot Blanc. Despite the many iterations of “Pinot,” May 17th is all about the gray one, Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio is one of the most popular white wines, yet underrated, and while it may not be the most complex of wines, it is one of the most versatile. With its high acid and fresh citrus nature, it is one of the most easily paired wines. It is light enough to enjoy with chicken and fish, and will hold up against cream-based dishes like fettuccine Alfredo! It is also a perfect accompaniment to a nice porch swing or pool lounge.  Perfect timing that we should celebrate this wine, as we get closer to the summer and warmer weather that calls for something light and citrusy.

It is all about style! The differences between Pinot Grigo and Pinot Gris is all in the style in which it was made. While Pinot Grigio leans towards lemon-lime, high acid and crispness, Pinot Gris may have some oak treatment that will lend a fuller mouth feel, creating a stylistically refined and elegant wine. Pinot Grigio originally hails from Italy, and its personality and flavor profile serve as a lovely alternative to its French counterpart. This crisp white is drier and lighter, with refreshing body and prominent acidity highlighting its stone, tropical, and citrus fruitiness, with gentle spiciness, minerality, and subtle floral notes of honeysuckle. Pinot Gris originated in modern-day Burgundy, France, but is now primarily produced in the country’s Alsace region. Where Pinot Grigio has high acid and light body, this dry white wine is usually medium-bodied, with medium-to-high acidity, and displays a lovely medley of tropical, stone, and citrus fruit flavors that harmonize with nuttiness and hints of sweet spice. 

While Pinot Grigio is best known for coming from northern Italy, you will find Pinot Grigio from several other locations as well.  California has approximately 16,000 acres of Pinot Grigio (compared to 70k in Italy). You can also find Pinot Grigio in Romania! It is one of their main white wine varietals! As for Pinot Gris, it is more widely produced and can be found not only in France, but California, Oregon and Washington, especially. Where Pinot Noir is king in Oregon, look to Washington state for its cousin, Pinot Gris. New Zealand produces wonderful, full-bodied Pinot Gris. Where Pinot Grigio is usually on the crisp, citrusy side, Pinot Gris has a wider character palate. It can be aged on the lees and with oak, left on the skins for fuller color and mouthfeel, or allowed to retain some residual sugar for a sweeter wine. There are also some produced as a Rosé. While it would not be advisable to age a Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris—especially those that have some oak or rested on the lees—have aging potential. Pinot Gris could be paired with similar foods as Pinot Grigio; however, Pinot Gris might be a better choice for richer foods like roasted pork, salmon with cream sauce, or vegetable lasagna. 

Next time you set out to grab a bottle for the warm weather, or you’re not sure of what to pair with chicken, salad, or creamed pasta, consider purchasing a Pinot Grigio/Gris. It is one of those no-brainer wines; it has the acid and the refreshing fruit notes to easily pair with any occasion, and if you did not already know the story of its name, now you have a great conversation starter!


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